NEW YORK – “Manufacturing activity in the central Atlantic region expanded in March for the fourth straight month, but at a more temperate pace than a month ago,” according to the monthly business activity survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. “All broad indicators — including shipments, new orders, and employment — continued to grow but at a rate below February's pace. Most other indicators also suggested moderate activity. District contacts reported capacity utilization grew more slowly, while backlogs held steady. Likewise, delivery times and finished goods inventories grew at a modestly slower rate.”

The manufacturing index decreased to 7 in March from 20 in February.

Index readings above zero show expansion, while numbers below zero indicate contraction.

Shipments slumped to 2 from 25, the Fed reported. Volume of new orders fell to 11 from 21, while the backlog of orders index remained at 4.

The capacity utilization index halved to 6 from 12, while the vendor lead time index slipped to 11 from 14. The number of employees index decreased to 6 from 13, while the average workweek index was at 2 after a 10 reading last month, and the wages index climbed to 11 from 7.

As for future outlook (six months from now), the shipments index was 26, off from 30 last month, while the volume of new orders index rose to 32 from 31, and backlog of orders slipped to 11 from 12. Capacity utilization fell to 24 from 28, the vendor lead time index held at 10, the number of employees index slumped to 10 from 32, while the average workweek index was at 9, off from 10 the previous month, and the wages index was 24, down from 26 last month. The capital expenditures index was 22, after 19 last month.

The finished goods inventories index fell to 4 from 12, while the raw materials index grew to 14 from 11 the previous month.

The current trend in prices paid rose to 2.50 in March from 2.25 in February, while rising to 1.50 from 0.97 for prices received. The expected trend for the next six months jumped to 2.80 from 1.58 for prices paid, and grew to 1.60 from 1.55 for prices received.

All firms surveyed are located within the Fifth Federal Reserve District, which includes the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and most of West Virginia.

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